Diversity of the Lusosphere: Brazilian, European, and African Portuguese
Brazilian, European, and African Portuguese, while all the same language, have each been forged by unique historical forces. Languages contain history, the effects of cultural movements, the explosive narrative of political upheaval as well as the geological and biological influences of location. Population movements are legible within syntax and heard in pronunciation. Brazilian and African versions of the language were created and shaped by colonialism and the meeting of European settlers and various disparate peoples on continents far from Europe. Speakers of all three variations of Portuguese are considered Lusophones and are part of the Lusosphere, the greater world community of speakers. Within that world is an amazing diversity of culture and history.
African Portuguese is the most similar to European Portuguese
African Portuguese has a more recent genesis and is actually the most similar to European Portuguese. This is because Portugal maintained its rule over its African colonies longer than it did Brazil and these countries still look to the European variety as a standard. Today, Portuguese is spoken in the African countries that were colonized by Portugal as well as others where Portuguese speaking populations migrated. These include Mozambique, Angola, Cape Verde, Guinea-Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe. These nation-states are referred to as PALOP (Paises Africanos de Lingua Oficial Portuguesa). South Africa has a sizable population of 300,000 Portuguese speakers, mostly settlers from Angola, Mozambique or Madeira. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Namibia, and Zambia have also absorbed Portuguese speakers who fled from the Angolan war and the civil war in Mozambique. Brazilian ex-slaves from Africa also traveled back from slavery in Brazil to the African continent, settling in places like Togo, Nigeria, as well as Angola — and spreading the language wherever they landed.
Today, Portuguese is a post-colonial language in Africa and one of the working languages of the African Union. It is a language of written and broadcast journalism. Like French and English in Africa knowing Portuguese gives you a passport to beautiful locations rich in culture and history. European Portuguese is the prestige norm for African Lusophones. The elites of the former African colonies send their children to Portugal for post-secondary education where European Portuguese remains the standard taught in Europe.
Brazilian Portuguese is nearly its own language
Of the three, Brazilian Portuguese is the most singular, tracing its origins from 16th century Portuguese to the present cornucopia of influences. Words from a broad amalgam of languages including American Indigenous languages, other European languages, various African languages, and even a bit of Japanese are now all heard in Brazilian Portuguese.
Brazilian Portuguese is actually so different from European Portuguese that it has begun to take on an identity of its own. Many foreigners call it Brazilian or Brasileiro. Certainly, Brazilian Portuguese remains Portuguese but there are many unique features. Vowels tend to sound longer and wider, nearly exaggerated in comparison to their pronunciation in European Portuguese where they are annunciated with a nearly closed mouth and with less clear emphasis on the vowel sounds. The “s” sound varies in Brazilian Portuguese depending on the region of Brazil. In Rio de Janeiro, the “s” is similar to the pronunciation in European Portuguese — which is a “shh” sound – like a shushing. Whereas in Sao Paulo it is clipped as in the word “super”.
Many African and Amerindian words are in Brazilian Portuguese
Brazilian Portuguese also carries the influence of Africans who came as slaves to Brazil’s shores from the 16th to 19th centuries. Yoruba is one of the languages they brought with them. Yoruba is the liturgical language of a popular Brazilian variation of an African Diaspora religion — Umbanda. A visitor to Brazil may catch glimpses of small boats being carefully placed into the ocean by devotees of Umbanda as an offering to Yemoja, a female Orixa or divine energy who is the divine Mother and associated with the ocean. Yoruba and Bantu words, originating in Nigeria and the Congo region respectively, are scattered throughout Brazilian Portuguese along with American Indian words. Much of the language for the flora and fauna of Brazil is from the Native tribe Tupi-Guarani. In fact, when Brazil was first settled by Europeans, for many years the Jesuits used a lingua franca that was based on Amerindian languages and African languages spoken by African slaves, this composite language was called Lingua-geral. It was used widely in Brazil until the end of the 18th century when expanding colonization of the interior of the country brought in many more Portuguese settlers, expanding their reach and deepening their influence. As European Portuguese became the country’s most important and numerous ethnic group, Portuguese became the national language.
Orthography of Portuguese varies and is standardized today
European Portuguese is more formal than Brazilian Portuguese. African Portuguese retains this formal aspect. Certain verb tenses are also different in Brazilian Portuguese.
To standardize the orthography of Portuguese, that is the conventions for writing the language including capitalization, spelling and punctuation, the Portuguese Language Orthographic Agreement of 1990 was created and signed in Lisbon in December, 1990. While still somewhat controversial the document has endured. Brazilian, African and European Portuguese retain their distinctive qualities yet remain one language.